Regularly the chair and curator of architecture and design at the Art Institute of Chicago and currently the curator of the 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial, Zoë Ryan has been seeking out manifestos for the 21st century. Frame spoke with Ryan one rainy Amsterdam morning about her curatorial direction 'The Future Is Not What It Used to Be' for the ongoing event taking place in Turkey's largest city:
In what way is the ‘future not what it used to be’?
Zoë Ryan: It’s a quote by French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry that seems as pertinent today as it must have been back in 1937. It encompasses the feeling of our times: rapid change and social and political unrest. I have always been interested in architecture and design manifestos, and we view the biennial as a platform for encouraging critical thinking. Rather than presenting projects that are oppositional, commanding and exclusive, we’re rethinking the manifesto with projects that are propositional, cumulative, adaptable and grounded in reality.
Quite a relevant concept, given the biennial’s location . . .
We arrived in Istanbul last summer, in the midst of the Gezi protests; many people were demonstrating for the first time in their lives. An interesting aspect of my job has been getting to know the community in Istanbul – and other cities in Turkey – and working with talent to develop projects that speak to local issues, yet have global resonance.
Are many of the projects from Turkey?
Around 30 per cent – a substantial amount, which was important to me. Meredith [associate curator Meredith Carruthers] and I set up many round-table discussions in Istanbul with relevant local figures in architecture and design. A whole host of characters were involved, making those talks a lot of fun.
Speaking of fun, are you including projects with more light-hearted themes?
DisturbATICollective from Italy will present the ABC Manifesto Corporation Writers and Consultants, offering visitors the chance to have a unique manifesto drawn up. There will even be an archive where you can choose your ‘ism’.
And what would your personal manifesto look like?
After spending well over a year researching and discussing manifestos, I’m not sure my manifesto can compete with the range of ideas we’ve compiled. I do know that this event – with projects that grapple with personal identity and wellbeing, explore ethical methods and outcomes, advocate for repairing structures and objects, and concentrate on generating collective social practices – has made me see the world in a different way.
The 2nd Istanbul Design Biennial runs from 1 November to 14 December 2014.
Portrait Andrew Meredith